I was very involved with the Christian church when I was a kid. Part of the reason was that I really liked it. Sunday school and other Bible lessons were kind of like regular school in that we were memorizing information and doing activities and having contests about what we knew, and since I liked regular school, it’s logical that I enjoyed Sunday school too. The church I went to also had a lot of fun events geared toward kids – Vacation Bible School, snow camp, and a youth group that met regularly at a private rec center where there was mini golf, rolling skating, a gymnasium, and a pool. There was a no shortage of entertainment, and I had some good friends in the church. But another part of the reason I was so involved is that it was an unwavering part of my microculture. My parents went Sunday morning, Sunday evenings, and Wednesday evenings, so did I too. That’s just how my world was. My parents are firm believers and so much like when they told me the tooth fairy, Santa Claus, and the Easter Bunny were real, when they told me all the information in the Bible was true, I took their word as, well, the gospel truth. It just took me a lot longer to stop believing in Jesus Christ the Savior than in the rest of the mythical creatures.
I wore pro-abstinence t-shirts throughout middle school and constantly recruited my friends to come to youth group events with me. But in high school, I started getting wise to the idea that a lot of what I was being told just didn’t make sense. For example, if you have to accept Jesus into your heart to be saved, it seemed that several billion people on this planet were doomed because how were they ever going to hear the good word? They lived in remote areas and spoke obscure languages. When I asked this question, the answer was simply that God guaranteed that everyone would have a chance to hear it once.
Okaaaaaaaay. Let’s assume that’s true and then let’s look at my very own experience I’m talking about right here. It took me 20 something years to fully convert from Christianity to agnosticism, and ten more to atheism. So some missionary goes and talks to a bushman for a few hours and that’s it? That’s the bushman’s one chance and damn him to hell, literally, if he doesn’t change everything he’s ever known about the world right after that one encounter? Hmmm. I’m giving that a big eyebrow raise. There were many other questions that were all met with an answer that was the equivalent of either “It’s magic.” or “Because I said so.”
Then, in college I started globetrotting and meeting those billions of damned souls. And funny thing – a lot of them turned out to have their own religions that they believed in just as much as my parents believed in theirs. So, except the dead, who can really say who is right? What a horror if all the people of the world who live pious lives as Jains and Baha’i and Zoroastrians and do good deeds in the name of their religions are condemned to burn in a fiery lake because they got some of the “facts” wrong. I firmly moved into the agnostic camp. I couldn’t go all the way to atheism because it seemed that there still had to be something out there. It is a lovely thought that like Chris Nielsen in What Dreams May Come we could all paint our own ideal world to live in when we leave this one. And besides, there are commonalities among religions (Muslims believe in Jesus after all, though they don’t believe he was crucified) that made me hang on to the idea that something must be there.
But as more time passed, the presence of a god began to look like the chicken and egg problem that is so neatly brushed aside by creationism. Was there really something there and therefore all of these ways to explain it emerged in different parts of the world? Or did all of these stories emerge – their commonalities created in much the same way any spice, disease, or pop star phenomenon spreads through travel and trade – and therefore we think something must be there? I now suspect the latter. And when it comes down to it, all religions have a fair amount of ridiculousness. Christians can mock the spaceships of Scientology, the magic underwear of Mormons, the elephant-headed god of Hindu, but when it comes down to it, in Christianity, some guy said if he just kills his son, the earth will be saved. Oh and by the way, that guy simultaneously is his son. Come on.
So I am atheist and not afraid to tell anyone. While religion does a lot of good for people by providing them a network of friends and even strangers who will help take care of them in their time of need, you don’t need religion to be good. And a lot of really wicked acts have been committed in the name of religion, but I can’t think of any in the name of atheism. Sure, there may be some isolated incidents, but mass-scale and planned atrocities such as the Crusades, The Taliban, Shia-Sunni conflicts, Israel vs. Palestine, Hindus vs. Muslims on the Indian subcontinent, Protestants vs. Catholics in Northern Ireland? I don’t think so. And let’s not even get into the various types of oppression imposed by all religions.
I’ll leave you with a thought from my favorite atheist, Penn Jillette: The question I get asked by religious people all the time is, without God, what’s to stop me from raping all I want? And my answer is: I do rape all I want. And the amount I want is zero. And I do murder all I want, and the amount I want is zero. The fact that these people think that if they didn’t have this person watching over them that they would go on killing, raping rampages is the most self-damning thing I can imagine. I don’t want to do that. Right now, without any god, I don’t want to jump across this table and strangle you. I have no desire to strangle you. I have no desire to flip you over and rape you. You know what I mean?
Curious about what everyone else is writing for the A to Z Blog Challenge? Me too! I’m featuring three blogs from my fellow contributors each day. Here are today’s entertaining, lyrical, beautiful, unique, informative, or just plain random discoveries: